Mgr Piero Monni, Holy See permanent observer to the World Tourism Organization, spoke on Friday in Rome at the European Conference on the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Tourism. This April 3-4 meeting was promoted by the WTO and by Italian tourism officials and received financial support from the European Community. A note from Mgr Monni's office accompanying his speech stated that "this appointment underscores the problems connected with paedophilia, the negative effects of this phenomenon and the need for specific policies of prevention in the sphere of tourism." Participants also discussed how to fight more effectively against the sexual exploitation of minors, how to apply or to improve the existing laws against such exploitation and the need for campaigns to report such sexual tourism. In his talk, the Holy See observer called the exploitation of minors "an alarming reality." Whereas legitimate tourism brings positive social, economic and cultural benefits to societies, he said, "for some time now we have seen a destabilizing and revolting parasite: so-called sexual tourism." He defined the "sexual tourist" as the man or woman "who, with the aim of having sex with minors, organizes vacations in countries that not only tolerate prostitution by minors but often use propaganda to attract tourists and thus to earn hard cash." He quoted a Canadian minister who spoke on this subject and said: "Sex tourism is a minimal part of the business of exploiting children as sex objects, but it is surely lucrative and unmistakable." Mgr Monni stated that the lack of norms in this regard, or even cooperation between police authorities and those exploiting children, only leads to an increase in such tourism and further exploitation. The situation of children around the world is far from satisfying, he said, noting that "millions of children suffer from the evils of war, illness, child labour and sexual exploitation." The Holy See delegate spoke at length of the Church's role in promoting healthy and sound tourism, and of the ceaseless efforts and determined commitment by religious institutions worldwide to combat the exploitation of children in all forms. He recounted "personally following sisters who, in late evening, went with their jeeps through the streets of Bangkok to gather the minors who were being exhibited in certain locales" and to care for them. "Their courage, which challenged dramatic situations linked to criminal groups, is a memory that follows me as I travel, for the WTO, the roads of the world." Mgr Monni said Churches worldwide were fighting paedophilia - and noted especially efforts made in the United States and the US bishops' document entitled "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."
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